Monday, October 29, 2012

In Julia's Kitchen: Minette's Feast by Susanna Reich

Minnette Mimosa McWilliams Child was a very lucky cat, perhaps the luckiest cat in all of Paris.

Day and night she could smell the delicious smells of mayonnaise, hollandaise,
cassoulets, cheese souffles and duck pates, wafting from the pots and pans of her
owner Julia Child.

Once upon a time, before Julia was The French Chef, she was a deliriously happy newlywed living in Paris. Their upstairs apartment was chilly, and her tiny kitchen had only an old-fashioned icebox, but she and her husband Paul had all of Paris, with its fine sights and fine, fine food, intriguing jobs as intelligence analysts, and a new life together. But Julia’s life was not yet complete:

Une maison sans chat, c’est la vie sans soleil!”

“A house without a cat is like a day without sunshine.”

But Paris was full of cats. And soon Julia had a cat named Minette.

With Minette on a sunny windowsill, Julia’s kitchen was perfect and she was free to practice her personal passion–the art of French cooking.
“She baked and blanched, blended and boiled, drained and dried, dusted
and fried.

She floured and flipped, pitted and plucked, rinsed and roasted, sizzled and skimmed.

”I have never taken anything so seriously, husband and cat excepted,” Julia

And while Julia pursued her passion, Minette pursued her pleasures–a nap, a lap, and,
of course, fresh mouse! Julia patronized le patisserie, le boucherie, and le boulanger, and although Julia offered Minette gourmet cat cuisine, simmered fish head and liver pudding, Minette took only a polite nibble. There were plenty of mice in Paul and Julia’s apartment, and Minette preferred mouse a la living room rug to all of Julia’s fine cooking. And while Julia whisked and whipped, Minette
refined her own skills on a stray Brussels sprout or a leftover lamb bone:

She frisked and flounced, darted and batted.
She tiptoed and hopped, danced and pranced.

She jumped and rolled, curled and stretched,
raced and ran, gurgled and . . . purred.

Paul and Julia and Minette were a marriage made in heaven–-and during those happy sunny days in her little Paris kitchen with Minette, Julia Child mastered the art of French cooking with passion and great joy. Of course, Paul and Julia Child went on to other postings, finally settling in an old house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Julia’s kitchen (now preserved in the Smithsonian) became the most famous kitchen in the world, the set for the television production of The French Chef, a kitchen shared joyously with many cats de le maison who followed Minette and with delighted viewers everywhere, who found that same joie de vivre and passion for good food that Julia and her cat Minette shared in that long-ago Parisian kitchen.

Susanna Reich’s Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (Abrams Books, 2012) captures the essence of Julia Child’s appeal to the public in this tres charmant memoir of Julia’s days as a student at Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Reich’s narrative language, sprinkled with alliteration and rhyme, as playful as her dear poussequette Minette, as rich and savory as Julia’s art of cooking, is married perfectly with the art of Amy Bates, beginning with the red-and-white checked endpapers of a tablecloth in a neighborhood bistro. The scenes illustrated with Bates’ quaint Parisian palette–Julia and Paul exploring Paris, their heads together as they companionably share a croissant, Julia bending over her cookpots, learning to stir two at a time, triumphantly producing a masterpiece of a dinner to her guests, Minette preparing to pounce upon an unwary mouse–are indeed delicious for the eye. A delightful picture book introduction to the backstory of an American original, Julia Child, a woman who singlehandedly (but with wooden spoon in each hand) changed the way America eats forever.

Reich 's well-researched text even provides an appendix with a biographical sketch (with photo of Julia and Minette in her lap), source notes and bibliography, and a pronouncing glossary of the French words which piquantly flavor the narrative.

"A fine recipe for pleasure: Julia Child, the culinary arts, Paris and a lucky cat. Magnifique!" writes Kirkus Reviews.

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